Circle Contact Lenses: The Terrifying Future of Beauty as We Know It

As Joan Jacobs, in her great book The Body Project illuminated, the idea of teen girls working to improve their bodies in a detached way – as if it were a project with perfection as its goal, rather than relating those alterations to ourselves – is not a new one. Girls have been focused on the pursuit of changing our appearances for at least a century, probably longer. At first it was “slimming,” or reducing what we ate, and wearing specific clothes (thank god the girdle is gone; I take pride in my food babies). And now we’ll do just about anything; whether it’s a diet of dexatrim max and laxatives or a $500 facial, all so that our waistlines, our skin, our [insert body part here] will be more pleasing to the world. It seems like there’s almost no limit to what we’ll do. Almost no limit until now. Now we’re compromising our organs in order to have the perfect body.

This New York Times article points to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video for the rise in “circle lenses,” special contact lenses from Asia that are unavailable in the US and come in bright colors: violet and pink, for example. These lenses make the eye appear larger by covering the iris and parts of the whites of one’s eyes. But I don’t think we can blame the All Powerful Gaga for this one.

Now, it’s strange enough to imagine somebody actually looking in the mirror and thinking to themselves, “Now if only my eyes were pink…then I would be the most beautiful girl in the land!” But this whole concept of trying to look more doll-like (inanimate, because we are not supposed to have thoughts or feelings and you can do whatever the hell you want with us) and innocent/weak (Men don’t want girls who are able to complete thoughts. They want these phrases to be on repeat in your head: “that sandwich is coming right up,” and “sexual favor now, or in 5 minutes?”) is being taken to the next level.

The article also draws a clear comparison between the similarity of the effect of these contacts on a girl’s appearance and the look of anime girls, further indicating the desire to be objectified. And while I don’t know a ton about anime or its overall significance in Asian culture, I am aware of a game called Pachinko that is at least huge in Japan. This is a game that is generally played by men in “pachinko parlors” where the basic point -- aside from some sort of pin ball guise -- is that female anime characters are overly sexualized, and in some instances give the player a pornographic show. So, there is definitely a weirdly pornographic undertone to the whole anime craze.

And while the article seems to focus on American girls it’s pretty clear this phenomenon is more common in Asian countries (I’m an American girl and I have definitely never heard of this trend.). Which makes me wonder…maybe these girls are trying to look like anime characters, but is it possible there is an element of westernization – Asian girls trying to make their eyes “bigger”? And then the idea of American girls trying on an Asian trend for size, or trying to look like an anime caricature, seems like we’re pandering to that (god awful) stereotype of Asian women – quite and subservient (innocent, doll-like). So, now there’s this creepy “I’m innocent, yet totally fuckable and if I say no I don’t mean it” vibe going on that just makes me sad/angry/appalled. Either way, we all lose.

And then if that weren’t enough, these lenses aren’t FDA approved. Apparently, sites that sell contact lenses approved by the FDA must verify customers’ prescriptions with their doctors while circle lens websites let you choose your prescription much in the way you choose your preferred color: anything goes – you’re the doctor now. Which is good, because the target audience (teenagers) has a vast expanse of ophthalmological knowledge. Clearly.

In the NYT article, some experts weighed on this seemingly ignored little problem. Karen Riley, spokeswoman for the FDA stated that when consumers buy contact lenses without a doctor-approved prescription / help from a doctor, they, “risk significant injuries – even blindness.” Optometrist Dr. S. Barry Eiden also warned that ill-fitting contact lenses could deprive the eye of oxygen and cause serious vision problems. So, we are messing with our eyes (a pretty useful organ– it’s not like we’re trying to make our appendix prettier) just to attempt to achieve an ultimately unattainable standard of beauty? Fab!

We always talk about unrealistic standards of beauty in comparison to models or actresses. But now, doesn’t it seem that our standard is surpassing even that 0.0001% of the population (or however many women are actually 5’11” and 110 lbs) and moving on to women that aren’t even real? We are trying to emulate literal caricatures of women that were probably drawn by men. And in the process, we’re not just objectifying ourselves; we’re dehumanizing ourselves. We’re not even allowed to be a pretty girl just for show anymore. At least society’s (once) ideally objectified girl could breathe. She had a brain even if she doesn’t use it. She was real. Now, we shouldn’t even exist off the page.

More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Body image and body standards, Feminism, Health, International, Media, Misogyny
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Discrimination, Music, Social media, Identity, Books, Americas, Advertising, News, Gaming



Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.